July, 2001





Green Machines

 Two timber professionals talk about the advantages of CTL

"When I first saw the system, in my heart I knew that was the way the country needed to go, because the issues that were coming up strong, this system addressed," . . . says Curtis Coombs, general manager for F.M.I. Inc., a logging company based in Dayton,Washington.

By Carmen Edwards

The system Curtis Combs feels so strongly about is cut-to-length (CTL) timber harvesting. The issues? Soil compaction, soil disturbance, better utilization and residual stand protection. A twenty-year veteran of the woods, Curtis has worked with the Forest Service, and managed his own company with a partner. Over the years, he's held shifting perspectives on CTL, and thinks CTL is often misunderstood. "A lot of people don't understand what it can do for lands management," he observes. "CTL is a timber harvesting system that's very sensitive to the environment." Curtis thinks it's time for all those concerned - from loggers to the Forest Service to environmentalists - to realize they all want the same thing - a healthy, good-looking forest. "I see so much frustration," says Curtis. "The Forest Service can't manage forests because they're afraid of being taken to court. And if the environmentalists would come out and see CTL, maybe they'd see there is a way. Let's base things on facts and put political agendas aside." And the facts are CTL systems increase utilization, minimize soil impact (the Forest Service estimates 3 to 5 percent ground disturbance), protect stands and minimize road building. Currently, Curtis says there are about eight out of 40 companies using CTL systems in southeast Washington state.

CTL harvesters leave a soft footprint in the forest

At F.M.I. Inc., Curtis says their system is made up of Partek's Valmet CTL harvester and forwarders The harvester is a 921 wheeled harvester; the forwarder is an 860 8- wheeler which can haul 16 tons out of the woods at one time, or about half a truck-load. Curtis is happy with the purchase and notes, "Everyone has their preferences, and I really believe the Valmet 921 harvester is the most productive out there. It's very nimble in getting around the woods and harvesting timber with the least amount of impact on the ground. It's big and strong and can handle large trees as well as small trees. It has good visibility for the operator - when you're in a tight stands, and you want to selectively cut, first of all you have to be able to see it, and this machine does allow you to do that. Dealer support is a major issue with that kind of capital investment, and we've used Valmet since 1993. This machine we've had a little over a year, and we're very happy with it so far." Curtis admits it costs more to use CTL equipment, but says the machine is returning higher productivity and is keeping the company busy, while increasing its competitiveness.

CTL harvesters, such as the Valmet 921, can handle large and small trees

Dan Kinney, a sales administrator for the Forest Service for 12 years, agrees with Curtis on the benefits of CTL. "There's less stand damage, a reduced need for brush disposal, little soil disturbance, and it helps with fish issues, since we don't have soil run-off and sediment going to the streams." Dan says that in the Walla Walla, Washington ranger district they have 100 percent cut-to-length. He explains, "Since '95, we haven't sold a sale that's been conventional tractor skidding. We were able to put out sales either with "no-effect" calls or "not-likely-to-harm-fish" calls." (The three criteria used for Forest Service projects are: no effect; not likely to adversely affect; and likely to adversely affect.) He says costs are a factor. Tractor skidding costs run 90 to 100 per MBF. CTL costs are higher, running 110 to 125 per MBF. Dan notes, "It is a little more expensive, but worth it because we're getting reduced brush disposal costs, and the other big factor is there just isn't any damage to the residual tree stand anymore and no soil impact. We used to be so worried about soil disturbance and now with the CTL system we run 3-5 percent soil disturbance."

CTL forwarders run at only 3 to 5 percent soil disturbance

Curtis says of managed areas, "They [environmentalists] believe we don't have enough trees. The problem is we have too many trees." In areas that have been managed, he sees trees grow so thickly and well that more work is required to stay on top of properly thinning those areas so the rest of the trees remain healthy. He says cutting those trees is not bad, but necessary and notes, "Unthinned areas become fire hazards and Mother Nature will thin those areas out, given enough time. With CTL, we simply get ahead of Mother Nature. 

According to Curtis, CTL benefits mills by extending the harvesting season to 11 months of the year. Currently, mills harvest in summer and fall and accumulate inventory in their yards. With CTL systems, they can harvest in the winter and in wetter soils and still not damage the soil. By extending the season, mills don't have to hold such large inventories in their yards. Also, because the lengths are already cut in the woods, mills can save that step. Species can also be sorted out in the woods, to better market the product. And CTL machines can also be programmed with cutting specs for top diameters and are better able to manufacture log products for diff mills, diameter and species sorts. 

SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) certification is good business, since more and more mills are looking for it, according to Curtis. For example, Boise Cascade (BC) is going through the SFI certification process right now and by 2002, anyone that works for BC will be certified. Curtis says CTL could be a key to private landowners, state and federal land managers, and mill companies to get and keep SFI certification, if CTL is considered from the basis of groundbased acres. 

"In your heart and your soul, if you want to do a good job, you've got to put the monetary investment out there," says Curtis. Dan Kinney of the Forest Service says of CTL, "I definitely think it's the future. Before '96, you couldn't find a lot of [CTL] systems, now there are a lot of systems. "The rest of the world is already there and have been there for years. I think as more and more people within the Forest Service agency see the benefits outweigh the dollars cost, it's just a matter of time and we'll be there." Curtis agrees and details the advantages of CTL: "You're better able to selectively harvest and thin your final cut. You're not building so many roads, which means a light hand on the land. Employees are safer in protective cabs all day long." Curtis adds, "I feel wholeheartedly that CTL is going to replace the old ground-based logging systems - when, I don't know, because we're talking about economics, but eventually CTL will take over timber harvesting." Everyone seems to agree that today and in the future, loggers will need to be more sensitive to the needs of both the environment and market demands. 

Carmen Edwards is a feature and business writer who specializes in the forest product industry. She brings years of experience at Weyerhaeuser to her writing for TimberWest.

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